One of Congress's staunchest drug warriors, Rep. Mark Souder, is at it again. The Indiana Republican best known for authoring the Higher Education Act's anti-drug provision is about to introduce legislation that would jam federal prisons even more full of drug offenders. The bill, called with Orwellian flair the "Drug Sentencing Reform Act," is set to be introduced within the next two weeks, and Souder is looking for cosponsors, reported the Drug Policy Alliance (http://www.drugpolicy.org), which has two staffers working Capitol Hill full-time and which is organizing to kill the bill.
According to an explanation of the bill provided in a Souder e-mail to his colleagues his legislation would:
The sentencing provisions are not the only provisions that will leave taxpayers clutching their wallets, Piper said. "The mandatory drug testing provision will also cost," he said. "Right now, judges have discretion on ordering testing, and they usually only impose a drug testing condition on parolees who have drug charges or a substance abuse problem, but this bill would require everyone on supervised release to have drug tests, even if there is no reason to believe they might be using drugs. It costs money to test every single federal parolee or probationer," Piper explained.
And while corrections departments in the states are moving to rein in the practice of returning parolees to prison for "administrative" violations such as failing a drug test (see California newsbrief this issue), federal drug testing will be used to re-imprison thousands of nonviolent drug offenders for years, Piper added. There is an exception for some federal misdemeanors or if prosecutors move to waive drug testing. "When is that going to happen?" Piper asked. "The states are trying to fix this problem, but Souder is moving in the opposite direction."
And then there's Souder's continuing war on marijuana. Long a loud opponent of medical marijuana, Souder has crafted a "high-potency" pot provision seemingly designed to be used against medical marijuana grows in states where the practice is legal. According to the bill's draft, marijuana growing offenders will be sentenced not just on the weight of the drug but according to its potency. Souder's bill creates three classes of high potency pot, between 6 and 13% THC, 13-25% THC, and greater than 25% THC.
"This is really about the cultural war on marijuana," said Piper. "They know they're losing the battle in terms of public support for the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana. Both Souder and John Walters like to talk about 'super-pot,' not your father's pot, this dangerous high-potency stuff. They also want to go after the pot co-ops, and it's easier to say they're going after dangerous, high-potency marijuana than it is for them to argue that we need increased marijuana penalties across the board."
Medical marijuana users smoke marijuana with high THC concentrations because it works better for them, said Piper. "It is ironic that Souder would discourage people from using stronger marijuana. People using more potent pot smoke less, and that's good for their health. Souder is encouraging people to grow and smoke low-quality pot, which means marijuana smokers will just smoke more."
That provision also provoked the Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org) to jump in to oppose the bill. "This bill is a direct threat to the health of patients and to the caregivers and loved ones who assist them," said Steve Fox, MPP director of government relations. "Souder should call his bill the Lung Disease Promotion Act of 2003. The only serious health risks associated with marijuana use involve lung problems like bronchitis caused by the tars in smoke, and research has shown that users of higher-THC marijuana inhale less of those contaminants."
While Souder scurries around seeking cosponsors, DPA is gearing up to ensure that he finds few or none. "We're doing a whole bunch of things to blunt this bill," said Piper. "We're encouraging people to call their representatives and tell them not to cosponsor, we've contacted congressional offices with the same message, we've faxed every congressional office a one-page analysis, and we're working to get media around so people are too embarrassed to become cosponsors," he explained.
Visit http://www.drugpolicy.org/docUploads/SouderEmail.pdf to view a copy of the Souder e-mail.